By Arul Louis *
The foreign policy leaders of India, the US, Israel and the United Arab Emirates held a virtual ministerial meeting to have what it takes to be a new grouping in the Middle East similar to the Quad but with a more limited security agenda.
“Discussed closer collaboration on economic growth and global issues. We have agreed on swift follow-up measures, ”tweeted India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar after meeting on Monday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israel’s Foreign Ministers Yair Lapid and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed from the United Arab Emirates.
While visiting Israel, Jaishankar sat next to Lapid during the virtual meeting.
The four top diplomats discussed “future opportunities for cooperation in the region and worldwide” as well as maritime security, according to a statement by the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Ned Price.
They also discussed “expanding economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade,” the statement said.
Earlier, at his daily briefing in Washington, Price said, “Obviously this is a collection of four countries – the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and India – with which we share many interests.”
India has close ties with all three countries.
India an inhibiting factor?
In a kaleidoscopic strategic environment in which China expands its radius of action from the Indo-Pacific over the East to the West and beyond, India lies in the middle of the Indian Ocean; Since the sea borders to the two areas are opening, it can secure them in conjunction with the USA.
After the US withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, China, which borders that country, exercises its influence there to project its power beyond.
But unlike in the Indo-Pacific, where the Quad sees Beijing as the overarching threat, India will likely be a reluctant force for a possible Quad in the Middle East, making it less likely to delve too deeply into local rivalries and instead rely on cooperation in critical areas of energy, health, economy and climate change.
US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and Scott Morrison of Australia and then Prime Minister of Japan Yoshihide Suga held a summit in Washington last month pledging to “strengthen security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.” “, Which opens up an opening for more distant trains.
The Quad describes itself as a group of democracies dedicated to building democratic resilience in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, but so does the Middle Eastern-centric group that includes the UAE, an amalgam of nondemocratic monarchies.
Price in his statement on the Middle East meeting avoided mentioning democracy and pointed out the limits of Washington’s noisy statements on it. The US statement at the meeting makes no mention of security issues other than a casual mention of “maritime security”, and it also addresses regional tensions.
However, the Quad Summit Declaration stated that “regional security has become increasingly complex and all of our countries are being tested individually and collectively” – a reference to China without naming it – and added, “We are again committed to Promotion of the free, open, rule-based order, rooted in international law and not deterred by coercion, in order to strengthen security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. “
The Quad has consistently avoided being labeled a security alliance and instead focused its outward-looking agenda of action on issues such as jointly deploying COVID-19 vaccines in the Indo-Pacific and working together on climate change.
The statement from the Middle East meeting also highlighted climate change and COVID-19. And a common thread in both was “people-to-people connections in technology and science”.
Quad members are participating in joint military exercises and India hosted the second phase of the four Marines’ Malabar exercise last week. The U.S. and India expanded their joint naval drills across the Indian Ocean in 2019 with anti-submarine drills near Diego Garcia.
Unlike the Quad, the four Middle Eastern countries have not held joint military exercises, but India is participating in separate exercises with Israel and the UAE.
It participates in the Israeli Air Force Blue Flag exercise, which began on Sunday alongside the US, UK, Germany, Italy, France and Greece. India and the United Arab Emirates held a naval exercise off the coast of Abu Dhabi in August.
Saudi Arabia the invisible guest?
In a cooperative structure of the four nations focused on the Middle East, the UAE has the capital, Israel and the USA have the technological edge and India the manufacturing and execution capacities.
The geopolitical situation in the Middle East, however, is a web of complexities and some interdependencies. The United Arab Emirates is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, a leading regional power center that is not part of the Middle East Initiative and has no diplomatic relations with Israel.
But inevitably, every cooperation between the four countries seems to include Saudi Arabia as an invisible guest.
The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are hostile to Qatar, even going through a phase in which diplomatic relations with Qatar were severed and even an embargo was imposed on Qatar for allegedly supporting terrorists. Israel also had similar complaints about Qatar.
In the Yemen conflict, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are on one side, which support the local government, while Qatar and Iran support the Houthi rebels in the civil war.
And there is the Turkey factor: Ankara is trying to act as the rival center of political Islam and recapture the role of the caliphate before the First World War.
Then there are the conflicts in the region like Syria, which is supported by Russia and Iran but opposed by the US and Saudi Arabia and Libya. India has stayed away from the conflicts and tried to maintain a certain neutrality and to hold bridges with Iran, Qatar and Iran.
* About the author: The author is a Nonresident Fellow of the Society for Policy Studies. He can be followed @arulouis
Source: This article was published by South Asia Monitor